In its first post-Brexit review of defence and foreign policy, UK has indicated a major pivot in priority to the Indo-Pacific region. It was also announced that Boris Johnson himself will be visiting India next month to solidify cooperation on a host of shared challenges like climate change, clean energy and global health. Of note is also an increased push for defence cooperation between the two nations in bringing about a more secure Indian Ocean.
Coming just days after the leader level talks of the newly revitalised and expanded Quad grouping, UK's pivot towards the Indo-Pacific is not only an indicator of the growing significance of the region but also Britain's own drive to establish its global identity post-Brexit. Prominent European powers, notably France, already have a presence in the region and have already made plans to expand it. Britain, fresh out of the secure trade environment of the EU, is now looking for another secure trade grouping. The strategy review also identified the Indo-Pacific as the "frontline of new security challenges" and has identified China and its authoritarian rule as a challenge to the UK and its allies. At the same time, the document also notes that China will likely contribute more to the global economy than any other country in the next decade and thus encourages economic ties with China. Needless to say, the idea of achieving a delicate balance of pushing back against China's authoritarian expansion while also keeping strong economic ties with it seems to be a rather optimistic one.
The document also details other strategic points. First, the document reassures that NATO and Europe will still remain vitally important to the UK's security considerations. While a bulk of its forces will remain in the Atlantic, as a symbolic move, the Indo-Pacific will be the first operational deployment of the UK's HMS Queen Elizabeth.
Queen Elizabeth is one of the two new class of carriers that Boris Johnson has labelled as being central to the rise of a more global UK. With the backing of the UK's improved carrier strike groups, the UK will take on a more activist role in international relations with a focus on the struggle to preserve democracy and fight against climate change. In a move to presumably supplement this new role, the UK also announced that it would be increasing the cap on its strategic nuclear war arsenal up to 260. Opposition leader Keir Starmer has been particularly critical of this aspect of the review, claiming that Johnson was needlessly reversing decades of the UK's commitment to strategic disarmament and also breaking international law doing so. Many of Boris Johnson's critics have also expressed concern over how ambiguous UK's policy on China is given tragedies such as those in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. There are also those who advocate for an outright adversarial stance towards China from the UK.
But there are also those on the other side that are concerned with the new UK pivot towards a possible future of antagonistic relations with China. If the UK sides with the US on issues like Taiwan, etc. it could risk cutting itself off Chinese trade and economic relations. This could be worrying given the background of Brexit which is still yet to show its full economic effects.
On the whole, while significant, the new review still sticks clear of being outrightly provocative with China. The document does not speak of cooperation with Quad or indeed even mentions the grouping. Significantly, it also does not speak of India-UK cooperation at the UNSC where the UK is a permanent member like China. The expectations are clear, if somewhat difficult to achieve. The UK wants increased political, economic and strategic participation in the Indo-Pacific region and considers China an eventual threat. But the UK will not be the one to provoke any potential conflict.